BANGALORE, January 2, 2014: The over 78-year-old building Town Hall found itself in the middle of a controversy early on Thursday with the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike having decided to pledge the building and the multi-level parking lot on J.C. Road with Canara Bank.
The idea was discarded after the Chief Minister, informed by reporters of the move, directed the BBMP Commissioner to keep off the heritage structure. Named after the first president of the Bangalore city municipality Sir K.P. Puttanna Chetty, funded by the erstwhile Crown Prince Kanteerava Narasimharaja Wadiyar and built by Sir Mirza Ismail, the stone structure is an integral part of Bangalore’s history. The foundation stone was laid by the erstwhile Mysore ruler Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar.
When contacted, BBMP Commissioner M. Lakshminarayana clarified to The Hindu that the corporation was not seeking a fresh loan; it was only “swapping an existing loan to reduce interest rates”. The seven-year-old ‘hundi’ loan had an outstanding amount of Rs. 200 crore to Rs. 250 crore, and a new offer from Canara Bank would reduce annual interest rates from 14.7 to 11 per cent. This would result in savings of over Rs. 7 crore, Mr. Lakshminarayana said. This new scheme would require property as collateral for which the BBMP had chosen Town Hall and the J.C. Road parking lot.
Mr. Lakshminarayana said that after he was advised against using Town Hall as collateral a decision has been made to select Johnson Market, prime property located on Hosur Road.
Meanwhile, Mayor B.S. Satyanarayana took exception to the BBMP’s “unilateral decision”. “We did not receive even a note from the executive on this matter. It was not discussed in the recently-concluded BBMP Council meet or even referred to the Standing Committee on Finance,” he said. Mr. Satyanarayana said that he was glad that the plan had been dropped as it would be “unfortunate to see a symbol of Bangalore’s heritage and history” mortgaged.
When asked about the choice of Johnson Market, he said that it had been planned to renovate the market. “There had been some resistance from traders, but we were hoping to renovate and revamp the prime property.”
A BBMP official from the Finance Department said that the original loan was about Rs. 600 crore and was being paid. “The loan was a liability but there were no plans to sell Town Hall as media reported. It was merely collateral and no property would have been lost. Given the financial situation all the corporation was doing was trying to utilise its existing properties to reduce the debt burden,” the official said.